Tag Archives: Rovos Rail Station

Oom Gert and the Rovos Museum

By Janine Avery at 5 Star Stories

Arrive at Rovos Rail Station in Capital Park, Pretoria and you’ll find a red carpet laid out before you. A smiling porter is ready to relieve you of your heavy luggage, and a bow-tie clad gentleman is holding out a glass of sparkling Champagne. And thirsty while you may be, we advise you don’t enter those hallowed doors to our red-brick station building just yet.

Instead take a sharp left, let the antics of two tame llamas put a smile on your face, marvel at the mighty horns of some Nguni cows, and venture just a little further into our very own museum. Here, the rough gravelly voice of Gert van Rensburg aka Oom Gert (Uncle Gert) will welcome you back in time.

Boarding his very first Rovos train over 20 years ago, Gert was acquainted with a very different side of train-life than that which you will come to experience on your trip with us. That’s because he spent his time in the engine room.

As one of our most valued train drivers, Gert’s office was the hot, noisy and smoky end of the train, where he toiled away with one goal in mind. That being to get his passengers where they were going safely and on time! It’s a job he did with utmost aplomb, but it wasn’t without tribulation. Spend a few minutes talking to him and you’ll be regaled by tales of elephants on railway tracks and troublesome and tiring steam powered locomotives from days gone past. In fact, so busy was he driving trains that it was only recently that he ventured back into those luxurious cabins for a trip as a guest. And while he may have now let go of his reigns and passed on his hat, and a wealth of knowledge, to the younger generation, Gert is still a valued employee here at Rovos. He now runs the museum at Pretoria and its clear it’s his pride and joy.

Packed with artifacts which reflect Rovos’ 30 year history, as well as interesting items and train memorabilia from around the world, we aim to develop the museum into the foremost train museum in the world. While you’re waiting for your train to depart, the little ones can also wile away the hours playing on a refurbished old tractor or acting out yesteryear inside a traditional telephone booth. There’s also a massive scalextrics track and heaps of model trains that are bound to keep the boys, and girls, enthused.

You’ll need to tear yourself away eventually but before you do, stop and play a while, listen to the stories of Gert, of which there are many to hear, and relive a different era. Just be sure to leave yourself enough time to explore this little piece of history before stepping on the train yourself and enjoying your rail adventure!

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Happy Birthday Rovos Rail

Happy Birthday Rovos Rail!

Image: Rohan and Anthea Vos

Three cheers for Rovos Rail! 30 years, we can hardly believe it. It’s our birthday today and it is honestly the most surreal and extraordinary feeling.

We sometimes can’t believe what we have managed to pull off in three decades. There have been many uphill battles Rovos Rail has had to fight over the years; a series of tragic local and international events that have almost brought us to our knees nearly forcing us to close our doors. But here we are, 30 years on with Rohan and Anthea still leading the charge, never backing down and providing all 440 of us with work we love.

Together with the creative and talented team at 10th Street Media, we produced a short film to document our 30-year history. We’ve released a couple of teasers over the past few weeks leading up today, our birthday. Should you wish to watch the full documentary you are welcome to do so by clicking here.

We would not be celebrating our 30th birthday if it weren’t for our loyal supporters . We’ve been fortunate to have amicable and prosperous relationships with local and international tour operators and travel agents who have entrusted us with their clients, our guests, for many years and we’d like to thank all of you for your enduring support.

And to our guests, especially our “repeat offenders”, your enthusiasm and enjoyment of our train is what fuels our fires and keeps us moving forward. Thank you for travelling with us and we hope to see you again soon!

To view all of our trailers and other 30th birthday creative and promotions click here. Visit our website at rovos.com, e-mail reservations@rovos.co.za or call us on +27 (0) 12 315 8242 (Pretoria) or +27 (0) 21  421 4020 (Cape Town).

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Rovos Rail celebrate with us

Winter Warmer

Photo credit: © Jos Beltman, Holland 

Autumn has arrived in South Africa and that means our annual Winter Warmer is here! This offer available to South African passport holders and SADC member states only.

The Winter Warmer is a 2-for-1 special on our two-night Cape Town journey and is available from April to 30 September 2019. The offer is for a one-way journey for two people sharing in a Deluxe suite.

The 50% reduced rate is R15 550 per person sharing in the Deluxe suite (normal rate is R31 100 per person sharing). The rate is fully inclusive of all meals on board, all alcoholic and other beverages on board, the off-train excursions, 24-hour room service and a limited laundry service. It does not include flights, transfers, pre- and post-tour accommodation or gratuities for the train staff. 

Cuddle up on board with us this winter and travel from the grasslands of the gold-rich Highveld to the haunting barrenness of the Great Karoo; trundle the spectacular mountain ranges and scenic winelands of the Cape.

Should you require further information please get in touch by e-mailing reservations@rovos.co.za or call +27 (0) 12 315 8242 (Pretoria) or +27 (0) 21 421 4020 (Cape Town). Visit our website here.

Terms & Conditions Apply

PLEASE NOTE: Rovos Rail is 100% reliant on Transnet for its traction and service (diesel and electric locomotives as well as drivers and railway infrastructure). Rovos Rail therefore cannot be held liable for any delays due to trains not running to schedule. Excursions cannot be guaranteed and will only be undertaken if time and circumstances permit. Departure and arrival times are approximate and cannot be guaranteed. We reserve the right to alter our routing at any time between departure and arrival points. We caution against same-day air travel on departure or arrival days due to possible delays with flights or the train.

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Rovos Rail Food and Beverage

Welcome Tiffany and Maryke!

The purpose of this blog post is two-fold. To let you know that we welcomed Tiffany Vos-Thane in an official capacity to Rovos Rail and that soon after her arrival she recruited the expert services of Maryke Reuvers, a professional chef and consultant. Tiffany is Rohan Vos’s youngest daughter and the last of the family to join the business. We’re thrilled to have her and the 12 years of hospitality expertise she brings with her. Welcome on board!

It did not take Tiffany long to realise that our Food & Beverage department required a fair amount of TLC. Rovos Rail has grown substantially in the past few years with the opening of three guest houses in Cape Town, the acquisition of our new train, the Shongololo Express as well as launching a new 15-day journey, the Trail of Two Oceans, from Tanzania to Angola. In addition, our workshop teams have been hard at work building new coaches so that we can now have five Rovos trains out at once. An impressive feat for a small, privately-owned company. But back to Tiffany and Markye.

Having mostly sales experience in the UK hospitality industry, but with a passion for all things food and wine, Tiffany got to work finding someone who could share in her vision and overhaul our entire Food & Beverage department. It was time to refresh menus, upgrade the bar and wine lists, renovate all the train kitchens and rebuild a brand new on-site kitchen. Chef and kitchen-staff training was also overdue as was food and beverage service. Enter Markye and wow, did she not know what she was getting herself into! It’s been months of spring-cleaning, throwing out, list-making, rearranging, implementing new training and systems, stream-lining and updating current protocols as well as embarking on site visits to newly discovered meat and dairy farms for authentic organic and fresh produce. Markye has also spent time on the trains travelling most of the journeys and working with our chefs in the on-board kitchens. It’s been a ride! And she’s not even halfway done yet.

Markye has spent over 17 years in the food industry and has been regaling us with fascinating stories of expeditions to the Russian Arctic, the Greek Islands and of course the South of France. Her work has taken her to many global destinations but now she is based in Cape Town making weekly commutes to our home-base in Pretoria where she can often be found on her all fours cleaning, scrubbing, inspecting or counting stock. We’ve never worked with a chef with such a strong A-type personality so it’s been an incredible experience for us and we have learned a great deal.

Both Maryke and Tiffany have been a breath of fresh air we didn’t know we needed, which we think is the best kind. Often, when heads are down and teams are working furiously, the small things begin to slip through the cracks and left unchanged become larger issues. It was time to rehabilitate everything to do with food and beverage and we are thrilled to have these two talented and hard-working women at its helm.

We look forward to sharing in our new bar, wine and food menus with you and welcome your feedback.

Cheers, saluti and santé to Tiffany and Maryke, a big welcome and thank you!

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Station Stories and Sentiments

From our humble beginnings in 1989 a focus of ours has always been preserving what little is left of the era of steam and the golden age of rail travel. In our 29 years we have collected artifacts, yes, but the most incredible and incredulous stories and sentiments. Our museum at our private station in Pretoria is one way we treasure not only our history but also all the stories, some of which are legend. Guests have expressed their sentiments at us being custodians of a rich part of South Africa’s rail history and the stories which we tell in our little museum.

Renate Engelbrecht from Travelling Mystery Guest visited us recently and penned a piece on our station, Oom Gert and his careful curatorship of our museum.

Like the Rovos Rail family business, the Capital Park station has many stories to tell. It’s a historical gem tucked away among Pretoria’s CBD, the National Zoological Gardens and African tuck shops. The station, built in 1948, from which Rovos Rail departs, also plays its role of heyday holiday start-off point and preserver of all things train, very well.

The station grounds are filled with animals – from lamas lying in the staff’s garages that greet you with weird looking faces, to an on-site Nguni herd. But, it is Oom Gert who welcomes you at the Railway Museum.

Oom Gert, a humble soul, is tall and skinny with a voice that tells the story of life on trains. He has been around since even before Rovos Rail. He started as a stoker in 1969 and eventually worked his way up to train driver. It was not long after his retirement that he was called up again to man the Railway Museum. Trains are his passion. “You can’t see nature from a car like you can from a train,” he says. Every person is important to him. He does, however, enjoy the Japanese visitors most. Still, he has never had people arrive at the station with an attitude other than excitement. “For them it is the beginning of an exciting journey. They are already comfortable and meet people from different countries in the museum. So, when they get onto the train, they already know each other.”

The 40-hectare station first belonged to South African Railways, with many different locomotives and train drivers that drove these trains into many different directions. After moving to another depot, though, the station became dilapidated and was later taken over by Rovos Rail, who has brought the station back to its former glory. Today Rovos Rail’s trains depart from here to Cape Town, Durban, Victoria Falls, Namibia, Dar Es Salaam and soon also Angola, with the whole complex posing as a museum.

Rovos Rail has given the station a proper revamp and kept historically relevant artifacts intact for train passengers and visitors to appreciate. The main station building, previously a dining hall for artisans, has been prettied up and they’ve added a clock tower to enhance the station’s ambiance. The steam and diesel loco shed has also been cleaned up. Most of the structures have either been rebuilt or are converted ex-SAR buildings. The on-site Railway Museum is mainly focused on the tourists embarking on their Rovos Rail journeys, but Oom Gert, the curator, welcomes anyone. The museum is constantly developing, and it is the Vos family’s goal for Rovos Rail Station to become the leading working train museum globally. The museum is small and quaint and takes passengers back to their childhoods with an original phone box, parking meter and old trains, as well as special collector’s items that have been beautifully kept.

It’s like exploring a bygone era when you step into the station building. Even before you set foot on the luxury train that has been voted one of the top seven trains in the world by wired.com, you are taken on a trip down memory lane. The station lounge has a certain elegance to it and takes you back to a time when you had to dress up for dinner and where sophistication was key. Rovos Rail Station serves as the departure and arrival point for all eight journeys on offer and passengers rave about the welcoming experience and the colonial atmosphere of the station.

Rovos Rail’s guests are received with elegant welcoming drinks and canapes at the station and are often given an introductory speech by the owner, Rohan Vos, which sets the tone for the exciting journey ahead. Vos then also habitually takes guests on an informative and educational tour around the station grounds before the train’s wheels start turning, explaining the workshops and loco sheds to them with unfailing enthusiasm. The museum, marshalling yards, train renovation and repair facilities and welcome centre are all run by him.

Owner, Rohan Vos, is an enthusiast of note and with the help and support of his family, he has brought Rovos Rail and its station to what it is today.

 

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The Lost Art of Train Travel

It’s always a lovely and welcome surprise when guests take it upon themselves to write a story for us. There seem to be many budding writers, poets and filmmakers on board as we are sometimes sent wonderful pieces of writing and video footage which often have the same theme – the lost art of train travel. How we’re all in a hurry to get to the destination so that we can “unwind” but once there we never put our phones down because everything needs to be shared online.

We received the below from Chris Hammond who, in his own words, could imagine himself as a history professor wearing a tweed blazer with leather elbow patches! Chris travelled from Cape Town to Pretoria on the train with his wife, Robyn, and when met on arrival at Rovos Rail Station they said that it surprised them how long it took them to relax and do nothing but eat, drink, sleep and mingle. “Train travel, in this form, is a lost art and it took some getting used to”, they said. “Well, just half a day and then we locked our phones away and didn’t seem them again until we got into Pretoria!”

The Lost Art of  Train Travel by Chris Hammond

Humans haven’t yet figured out a way of travelling through time but that doesn’t exclude us from experiencing the indulgences of a bygone era, which is exactly what Rovos Rail offers the discerning traveler – a step back in time and a tantalising taste of the romance and craft of the Age of Rail.

The furious pace of our modern lives has sadly distorted our opinion of travel. The goal these days, largely, is to get from Place A to Place B in the least possible time, with as little inconvenience as possible. The journey has become a means to an end, the objective to will the time away with distraction after distraction so that we can reach the destination and carry on with our frantic lives. Now is not the time to explore the effect of this ‘always-on’ mentality on our collective psyches and stress levels, but suffice to say that, at the very least, it is unhealthy.

A century ago there were fewer options. We couldn’t jump on a plane in Cape Town and land in Johannesburg two hours later. A trip then necessitated an understanding of the journey and an appreciation of the time that it would take to cover that distance, invariably, by train. With that came an acceptance that the journey would consist of what the modern day traveller might call ‘dead time’ – a period of time where communication with the outside world was effectively impossible and seemingly little could be accomplished. The traveler was forced to seek ways of extracting pleasure from the journey itself, a notion that Rovos Rail has revisited and refined into something of an art form.

From the moment you set foot in the Rovos departure lounge, you are transported to a time that exists now only in books and in memories we hold of stories passed down to us from generations that have gone before. Vaulted, high ceilinged corridors and a rolling, red carpet lead to an elegantly appointed lounge, where the soothing chords of a string quartet float through the air and the sparkle of a glass of champagne on a silver tray welcome the guest to the Rovos experience. There is no option other than to exhale, relax and allow yourself to be transported back in time.

Nothing is rushed. The train departs when it is ready, and the landscapes pass lazily by as passengers are encouraged to unwind, to mingle and to enjoy the scenery. It is easy to forget how vast and beautiful this country is, and to watch through the windows as the space unfolds into the Karoo in front of your eyes is restorative.

Exquisite attention to detail allows for fascinating interactions with the train, as the story and history of each carriage and indeed of Rovos Rail itself is discovered to those intent on finding it. The history revealed is remarkable and enchanting, so much so that had Barney Barnato himself walked into the dining carriage it would not have felt surreal.

Undeniably the sensation of not being rushed, or of having time to spare, has become so unfamiliar to us that it takes some getting used to. It’s not long however, before one can sense the layers of stress falling away and the thrill of adventure return.

Of course, it helps immensely that your every need is catered to. Magnificent meals that seem to emanate from invisible kitchens are sumptuously stretched out into the evening, paired with the finest selection of wines that the country can offer. Guests are left wondering what kind of sorcery enables the waiters to deliver such exceptional fare in such style from within the restrictions of the train environment. Questions of service logistics are quickly forgotten though, as the combination of the dessert wine and the soothing, rhythmical motion of the train draws one into a deep sleep in the surprisingly generous double bed.

Much of the same is to be expected in the days to come, and before long the cycle of eating indulgently followed by prolonged sessions of staring into the vast expanses that present themselves has become second nature. The ‘real world’ worries that seemed so pressing before departure seem to dissipate into the blue South African sky.

Guests are left feeling revived and invigorated as the train pulls slowly into the Private Rovos station in Pretoria.

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Rovos Rail’s Taunina Teddies

Rovos Rail Taunina Teddies

The tale of our Rovos Rail teddies began 19 years ago with our journey finding us in the capable and talented hands of Taunina.

On an early Dar es Salaam trip we had two delightful Australian ladies, Dawn and Annike, who travelled everywhere accompanied by teddies they collected the world over. At their suggestion, the Rovos collection of limited-edition teddies slowly evolved when, in 1998, Anthea met Bev Duncan who had a small barrow in the V&A Waterfront Shopping Centre full of her handmade teddies.

This chance encounter spanned a 17-year friendship with Bev painstakingly producing 20 collections (50 to a set) of customised, handmade Rovos teddies and 600 kiddies bears. Bev took great delight at the thought of her teddies living worldwide.

Very sadly, Bev developed a brain tumour in December 2013 and after a long, hard-fought battle we lost her in April 2015.

Anthea, deeply saddened by the loss of her friend, pressed pause on the creation and production of our teddies and it’s only recently that Taunina have taken up the helm.

The Taunina story is one of great courage and compassion for the commerce lies intertwined with community upliftment. The company focuses on improving lives of disadvantaged people who operate in communities where opportunities may be limited but where creativity and passion are abundant.

“We provide our artists with the support and market access they need to make a living by using skills many of them learned at an early age. And we actively involve them, sharing in the success of the business. Artists receive a steady income (vs. piece rate pay) in the form of wages that are significantly higher than market-related salaries. In addition, they will receive 30% of the before-tax profits of the company: 20% through the Bear Essentials Fund (which contributes towards the housing, healthcare and education of their families) and 10% in the form of productivity-related cash bonus payments.”

To date, Taunina have created 10 bespoke teddies for us each in the Rovos green, old gold and maroon in keeping with our corporate colours and each with a paw pad and ear in leopard print. The other paw pad carries with it a little Rovos Rail charm. Our first three bears went out on the Dar es Salaam train in August last year with Thebolo, Munaki and Nyenyedzi finding homes in Germany!

All the teddies carry the initials of the women who make them, symbolic of their sense of dignity and pride. Each bear travels in a handcrafted hatbox with his or her very own bespoke passport. A Taunina creation is a work of art, an heirloom to be passed from one generation to the next. It’s a gift that changes lives.

“The name Taunina is an anagram of the African word ‘TAU’, meaning ‘lion’, and ‘NINA’, an acronym for ‘No Income, No Assets’. Taunina gives women who were once without income and assets the power to become lions of their own destinies.”

We’re proud of our association with this fantastic company and are encouraged and inspired by their story. For many, living in South Africa simply means surviving so for women to stare such adversity in the face and create gorgeous teddies that live across the world is just remarkable.

Click here to watch the Taunina video.

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Rovos Rail

A Tulip is Born

Picture credit: Bianca Vos-Lynch

In January of this year we wrote a post entitled An Australian, his Bride and a Cow which told the story of one of Rohan’s daughter’s, Bianca, and how her fiancé, Brandon, purchased a gorgeous female Nguni cow as Lobola for his future bride. Brandon named her Mia Bella, meaning my beautiful one, and told us that she was a heifer – pregnant with her first calf – and due in February. Well, February became March, which became April and finally the vet told us to expect the little one in September! We’re not sure how the Nguni cow farmer miscalculated that one but a little girl eventually arrived on September 24th, Heritage Day in South Africa, and a Tulip was born!

You’ll see from the original story that we decided that Mia Bella would need a friend so we purchased another pregnant female who we called Camilla. Her calf, Alfie, was born in June and he is growing into a handsome and quite randy little fella! So all our fingers were crossed that Mia would have a little girl. Eventually, on September 24th (Heritage Day in South Africa), a calf arrived looking very gangly but very sweet – a girl who we called Tulip. In a moment of territorial aggression, Camilla kicked her around so she spent her first few days with a mild concussion, wobbling about, but is now latching and flourishing alongside her relieved mother.

Her name might sound a bit odd to some but there is personal meaning behind it for the Vos family as it honours Anthea’s father who recently passed – he was nicknamed Jimmy the Tulip by his grandchildren after a movie character and, serendipitously, that is how our little Tulip got her name. And she also decided to come into the world on Jimmy’s birthday which made her birth all the more lovely.

Welcome to the world and to Rovos Rail, Tulip Vos-Lynch! We’ll adore you and take care of you forever.

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Long Live the Shongololo Express!

It’s been a busy, sometimes overwhelming but very exciting week here at Rovos Rail headquarters. As some of you may know we purchased the three-star Shongololo Express train in January of this year and for the past few months the train has undergone quite a substantial renovation. On Tuesday, 16th August, we walked Gauteng-based tour operators and travel agents through our brand new spruced up train and celebrated with a few bottles of bubbly afterwards!

In true Rovos fashion, the timeline for the renovation was tight but our incredible team pulled off miracles. The brief was to gut all existing bathrooms so that new shower and bathroom floors could be laid down, wooden shower door frames were built with better shower heads, new loos have been installed as well as bathroom cabinets, hair-dryers and some cabins received new sinks! Our plumbing team also worked hard at improving the water pressure in each cabin.

The layout of the Gold cabins was overhauled to allow for more space and there are now twin, double and fixed double options. The more spacious Emerald cabins have also been tweaked to allow for more space and all rooms have been fitted with new wood-panelling, linen, day covers, curtains, paintings, carpets, towels and the Shongololo Express now comes with full amenities kits too.

To be able to walk some of our biggest supporters through our lovely new train was a privilege and our team felt a wonderful sense of accomplishment.

The ‘new’ Shongo departed for a 15-day Good Hope Golf trip yesterday and we feel confident that all guests on board will feel comfortable in their new digs!

Long live the Shongololo Express!

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Rovos Rail Shongololo Express

Rovos Rail Purchases Shongololo Express

Early in January of 2016 Rovos Rail purchased the Shongololo Express train of 19 coaches and agreed to employ all the personnel.

“Operating a three-star train had always been at the back of my mind. When I learned that the Shongololo Express was on offer the timing seemed serendipitous and so an opportunity not to be missed”, says Rohan Vos, owner and CEO of the Rovos Rail Group, of the purchase.

The train has been repainted in green and cream and an additional dining car plus an observation car have been added. The accommodation of six Emerald suites (± 10sqm) and 30 Gold cabins (± 7sqm) will remain as is.

The three itineraries, Southern Cross – Pretoria to Victoria Falls (12 days), Dune Express – Pretoria to Swakopmund (12 days), Good-Hope – Pretoria to Cape Town (15 days); have been rebuilt with more stationary time at night and less road time spent on the excursions.

Golf has been introduced to the Good-Hope trip, renamed Good-Hope Golf, with courses such as the Arabella Golf Estate, Ernie Els Oubaai, Fancourt, Champagne Sports Resort, Durban Country Club, Zimbali, Royal Swazi and Leopard Creek being available to guests.

All journeys are available in reverse and, as before, guests can purchase optional extras that include visits to cultural, historical or heritage sites and overnight stays at safari lodges. The rates do not include most lunches, beverages and laundry.

“A three-star product offering will be different for us and I’m sure there will be a few initial teething problems but we’ve been doing this for 28 years so I think we will be able to manage this exciting new adventure”, comments Rohan.

For further information please contact shonogololo@rovos.co.za, call + 27 (0) 12 315 8203 or visit www.shongololo.com. Any media enquiries to brenda@rovos.co.za / + 27 (0) 82 961 9433.

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